Resources and information which may  be helpful, or at least interesting:

Work: are you thriving or just surviving?

If you are a senior leader, manager or executive, consider the following questions:

 

  • Are you too often caught up in dealing with operational issues, firefighting, holding peoples hands or keeping the operational plates spinning?
  • Do you need to spend more time giving direction and clarity so that the business thrives, rather than solving problems to make sure the business merely survives?
  • Is this what you envisaged doing when you reached the senior position that you now hold?


If your response to the above leaves you with a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are I have a few thoughts on possible ways of beginning to make changes for the better….

The world of work is made up of people, process, culture, behaviour, budgets, planning and a host of other factors. How you view yourself and your organization on the following may provide some insight into areas to explore further:


Purpose – is everyone clear about what the business exists to do and exactly how their effort at work contributes to this? Is it clearly and explicitly understood?

Behaviours – do people in the organization (from senior to shop floor) understand the difference between doing what matters to really make a difference and doing stuff to ‘look good’ or ‘meet the numbers’ or ‘keep the boss happy’? This can highlight dysfunctional behaviours that sometimes exist in teams and groups.

People – do managers understand how different people behave, what motivates them, what are their learning styles and what their preferred communication styles are?

Big Picture - do the senior team see the ‘big picture’ in terms of business trends, pressures, customer demands and expectations as well as internal and external pressures?

Measures – do you measure what matters to your customers in some meaningful way that lets you understand how well your service is performing in your customers’ eyes? Unless your customers don't have a choice of who they buy services from, this is critical.

Learning - how capable is your organization at learning from mistakes? Are they seen as opportunities to learn or reasons to blame? Creating a learning organization can fundamentally improve capability over time.

Values - what are the values that define the beliefs, which in turn inform the actions that underpin what people do? This is often assumed but rarely discussed and can offer great opportunities to leverage positive change.


I could go on but, if these are some key factors in determining how effective your business operation is, do you and your colleagues have the necessary skills in these areas to be truly effective and if not how are you going to go about getting them?

Every business has its own challenges but some of the things that can help address typical problems include:


Leadership development – this can consist of work to understand the values that underpin how leaders work together and shape the direction and focus of the organization as well as some core skills in working as a team so that you are all rowing in the same direction. It can include specific skill development or individual and team coaching.

People skills – some simple activities in modeling how people are wired to help understand behaviours can pay dividends, both with internal staff interactions and, just as importantly, with customer relations. Building skills in dialogue to create true understanding can dramatically improve interactions at all levels of work.

Measures – people tend to pay attention to what you measure. The core metrics of turnover, profit, PI’s and the like are important but often don't give insight into how the business is performing in the moment. Developing meaningful measures of how capable your business is at doing what matters to customers can provide clarity, direction and hope.

Process – making the work processes visible by simple mapping and reviewing often creates enormous opportunities to make positive changes that benefit staff, customers and the business. Even the act of exploring the processes together can yield benefits through shared understanding.


In the context of this article on doing what really matters I have a working assumption that you are reading it with a desire to transition from wherever you are now to somewhere that is better. On this basis I’ll finish with a definition of ‘slow suicide’ from Theodore Zeldin and a plea that we all refuse to accept it:

A long drawn out suicide occurs in all who earn their living in work which leaves them feeling less than alive. Some people give the impression of engaging voluntarily in self mutilation but it is very often the institutions they belong to that drive them to it.’

If you are a leader in an organization I would gently ask that you consider how you might work to help yourself, your colleagues and your organization to be alive.

Thanks for reading,

Jaime

Jaime@peersconsulting.co.uk

Appreciative Inquiry

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Appreciative Inquiry

 

Which presumably would be Enquiry if it was a UK creation.

 

The Problem

The problem is we have a habit of looking for problems rather than solutions. And we usually find what we are looking for.

 

Almost all of my work with organisations and teams started with a problem that needed fixing. Whilst it is important to recognise problems for what they are the way we approach them can make a huge difference. This difference is felt in both the journey and in the final destination: The journey can feel like a painful exploration of errors and failures with blame and criticism aplenty along the way. The destination can be a list of actions and accountabilities to make sure something is done as it should be. With an unspoken ‘or else’ if things don't improve.

 

The thinking behind this is that the organisation (or the team or the people in the team) represent a problem that needs to be solved. Implicit in this is usually a view that someone from outside the organisation or at the top of the organisation needs to step in and put things right. Is it any wonder that people don't feel exactly positive about change initiatives?

 

The solution

An alternative mind-set approach is Appreciative Inquiry (AI). In a nutshell it looks for what works and builds clarity about what we want our service, operation, product or whatever to be like. It involves all the people involved (not just a small group of ‘experts’) and creates long-term positive change in organisations and groups. It encourages people to work together, better understand how they can work together and work to a common aspiration of what is best.

 

The thinking behind this is that the organisation (and teams and people in the teams) is a mystery full of opportunity and potential that should be embraced.

 

An implicit assumption in AI is that what we focus on becomes our reality – focus on what is wrong and everything is seen through that filter or frame and this filter or frame defines our unconscious sets of assumptions.

 

AI isn’t a soft option or easy alternative. Quite the opposite. It is a clear and effective approach to building work that works. There are dozens of case studies on how effective the approach is and if we want to create workplaces that both deliver great work and are great places to work in then this seems like a breath of fresh air to the spiral of negative assessment of failures, errors and wrong doing that needs to be fixed.

 

Harvard Business Review suggests that 60-70% of all change efforts fail. Einstein suggested that continuing to do the same thing whilst hoping for a different result was a sure sign of madness. So, if you want to avoid the negativity that traditional transformation and change programmes create and do something more positive and successful try Appreciative Inquiry as a first step antidote to avoiding madness!

 

Oh, for a bit more detail (but nicely succinct) background I recommend ‘The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry’ by Sue Annis Hammond. Or get in touch with Peers Consulting Ltd and we will try to help. In an Appreciative way

 

Thanks for reading

Jaime

Why Invest In Coaching?

Good question. More reasons than you can shake a stick at, but how about to:

  • Clarify your goals
  • Prioritize your goals
  • Figure out what stops you achieving what you are capable of
  • Keep on track and don't give up
  • Learn new skills
  • Be more successful, and
  • Be happier

All obvious stuff, you might say, but if so, why don't you do it already? Probably because you are too busy, distracted, focused elsewhere, not sure how to begin. Maybe, deep down where you only admit it to yourself, you are also a bit scared that it might mean doing something different.

There’s an old saying, ‘People don't resist change but they do resist being changed’. Working with a good coach should feel like you are stretching yourself, in ways that work for you and in a direction that works for you and not having stuff done to you. But the prospect can be a bit scary if it’s new territory. A bit like the first time you dived into the swimming pool – everyone else could do it, you knew what to do, you wanted to do it BUT it's a bit unnerving the first time. When you did it though…Wow! What a great feeling and it was hard to remember what caused you to hesitate. Coaching is about opening up new opportunities, doing things that you believe in and, ultimately, leading the life that you want to lead in the way that you want to lead it.

A good coach will work with your potential and focus on your strengths. Your success is their success and their whole agenda is to help you. A coach is your safe confidante to whom you can talk about things without fear of reprisal or judgment and can provide you with objective, positive feedback. Most coaches will offer a no commitment initial conversation to decide if you both want to work together – the right match of style and approach is important to create a successful partnership. A few things coaches will not do: 

  • Coaches won’t tell you what to do (but will ask you powerful questions).
  • Coaches aren’t therapists (but will help you overcome challenges and uncertainties that may be holding you back).
  • Coaches won’t judge, criticize or laugh at you (though they might laugh with you since coaching can be an enjoyable experience).

I put this article together after having worked with many leaders who wanted to improve some part of their business operations. What the successful leaders recognized is that this might involve them changing too and part of my engagement incorporated a degree of coaching the leader. The less successful pieces of work were when leaders asked me to go and ‘fix their problems’. This usually meant fixing their problem people and leaving the great leader alone to do their more important stuff.

My light-bulb moment was when my coach helped me to discover this (now obvious) truth about leading change. I probably would have got there on my own in the end but not as quickly as with a coach to help me think clearly and build a route to doing things better.

Thanks for reading

Jaime

New Starters

I wrote an article recently about business growth. A number of people liked this and went on to ask me for a bit more detail about taking on new staff. They wanted to know what they could do to maintain and build upon the key values that made the start up business successful but seemed tricky to keep in sight as they grew. Here goes:

I began with customer and purpose – being clear with new starters means not just putting into a manual who the customer is and how important we regard them but going a bit further. Try to make it ‘real’ for your staff by taking them onto the shop floor or the sales counter or the first line telephone centre or wherever customers contact the business. Let them experience the interactions and talk about how you define good service and what matters to customers. Explain how you measure this and how this feeds back into the business. Let existing people explain about what they do and why they do it.

Follow up on this with the values of the organization and explore with new starters what matters to them. Understanding a bit more about people shows that we care and this creates trust. Realising that one person has to leave on time for child care commitments, another has elderly relative obligations and yet another attends a sport club competition one evening a week are simple but powerful ways of working for win-win relationships. Recognize that there is more to staff than work. Work-life balance is more about the whole person, part of their world comprising employment, part other stuff but only together do they create a whole person. If we want people to turn up to work as whole people then it helps if we treat them that way.

Most new starters are subject to a probationary period. Once the work has been explained, shown, described etc. put a bit more detail on the bare facts:

  • What the business is about and what matters (values)
  • What are the long term goals and short term priorities
  • How the new starters role contributes to the larger purpose of the organization in terms of function and activity and customer
  • How ‘good work’ is defined, measured and improved
  • Who defines this
  • What is expected of you
  • How the business gives you feedback

Continue this with a more personal conversation along the following lines:

  • What do you want to achieve here and how will you know when you have achieved it? Ask short, medium and long term.
  • What do you think are your key skills that will help you to do this?
  • What stands in your way?
  • What do you need from the business to help you achieve success?
  • Can we agree permissions to be honest with each other about what helps and what gets in the way, organizationally and personally?
  • What sort of things trip you up or have caused you difficulty in the past? Are there any danger signs we can both look out for so we can talk and resolve sooner rather than later?

Once the induction or introductions are complete agree clear review periods. These will likely depend on many factors but might be daily for week one, weekly for weeks 2-4, monthly thereafter but, whatever interval, it needs to be regular. It needs to be consistent with the day one messages. It needs to be open, honest and supportive.   If the organization really wants to help its staff to achieve the best, it needs to take action that helps. This might be specific job based training or it might be people skills but will vary person to person and can only be identified by maintaining dialogue. One of the cruelest things managers can do is allow staff to keep on failing below the radar.

Of all the people we interview for a role we usually short list down to a few who seem suitable candidates. Final decisions are often made from a small number of people who all meet the job requirements and we settle on those that we believe are trustworthy and we want to work with. We select people who are capable and fit in with the organization’s values and ethos. It is disingenuous of organisations not to maintain their side of the bargain by working to build on the relationship once new people start in employment. By continually engaging, supporting and working with staff we create a successful business based on successful people. Failure to do so courts disaster.

Thanks for reading

Jaime

Jaime@peersconsulting.co.uk

Business Growth

Someone asked me recently, ‘All of your work seems to be about improvement in large organizations, how would you go about building up a business without all the problems that you get paid to solve?

Good question. Here are my thoughts.

Many a small business starts at the kitchen table or home garage level based on the enthusiasm, skills and knowledge of its founder. This owner has total control and understanding of the process and engages directly with customers so knows what is successful, what isn’t and why. So as the initial business looks set to expand it pays to plan the growth with the following in mind:

Start with Customer and Purpose. Is everyone in the organization clear about who their customers are? There is often a customer chain (think wholesaler, retailer, purchaser, end user at a minimum). What matters to these customers? If you don't know, there are myriad ways to get data about customers. Does everyone understand what the purpose of the organization is and their role in it? Is it to make money, sell product, meet a target or, perhaps, to provide a product or service that your customers really value? Make sure this is clear to everyone who joins and maintain visibility of this at all times.

What are the values of the organization? Values are based on beliefs and what people believe drives what they do on a daily basis – in their work, their interactions with colleagues and with customers. Making sure that the values that the initial owner knew without thinking about are visible, shared and agreed are key. Most managers will say things like ‘trust’ and ‘honesty’ are values they endorse but do your staff see these in their daily interactions in the business?

Process and data – how is the work delivered and how is it measured? How do workers know that they have done a good job on any day and (linking to values above) do they feel safe in exposing problems to managers? Are mistakes treated as opportunities to learn and improve or sticks to beat up staff with? Is there clarity about what a ‘good job’ looks like and how it is defined and measured? Set this right from the start and you grow an organization that can learn. Get it wrong and your people will miss your expectations in ways you cannot yet imagine.

Finally, all one team – imagine a team of rowers in a boat race. If they synchronize their strokes and work together the boat flies along the water. If they all work to their individual strengths, some pulling faster, some pulling stronger, some slower then chaos ensues and the boat goes nowhere quickly. The boat is analogous to a business in that if everyone doesn't pull in the same direction…. So it is a critical role of managers, as new people start, to make sure that all the values, processes and understanding that is clearly visible to the start up operation is shared with new staff. 

None of the above is rocket science and with planning, thought and technique an organization can grow into a class leading business. But it won’t happen by itself. Unless growing businesses want to gamble on pure chance, defining multiple aspects of how the business develops is essential to ensuring growth equates with success rather than failure. And this brings me back to the original question and explains how some of the dysfunctional processes, behaviours and failures in large organizations came into existence. Getting it right at the start means you create a well-oiled machine that runs to do what was intended. Leaving the growth to chance ends in problems if you are lucky and business failure if not.

  

Thanks for reading

 Jaime

 Jaime@peersconsulting.co.uk